Father’s Day is coming up, and so we’re celebrating automotive dads and their little sluggers that got all growed up. Today, we’re profiling a family of little cars that changed the world: the Mini!
Like Father: The BMC Mini
Although you probably already know this David and Goliath story, Alec Issigonis’ wildly unconventional little cars challenged the big boys at the Monte Carlo rally and for 3 years (1964, 1965, and 1967) won outright victories. That’s pretty amazing when you consider the Mini was designed to be the barest of basic transportation, fitted with rubber cones as suspension, a monocoque shell to save weight, and a tiny front-wheel-drive layout to save space. Spurred into development by the Suez Oil Crisis and Austin’s chairman’s hatred of “bubble cars,” it was a proper car of miniscule proportions.
It wasn’t designed to be a sportscar, but it handled like a go-cart and weighed less than 1500lbs at its heaviest. When John Cooper got his hands on them, he nearly doubled the output of the BMC A-series engine, creating the legend that won rallies. It was also a legend that convinced the world that transverse front-wheel-drive engines were the future, providing the extra traction that would keep future generations safe in inclement weather. Finally, it represented the zenith of British automotive ingenuity, become a lasting legacy to Issigonis’ seemingly hare-brained ideas. Selling from 1959 until 2000, it was one of the greatest little cars of all time.
When you’re dad’s this multi-talented, how could you possibly hope to step out of his shadow? That’s the challenge the new MINI faced …
Like Son: the new BMW MINI
BMW purchased the Rover Group in 1994, and a year later Rover began development of a Mini successor. When BMW determined that Rover was slowly circling the bowl of the WC, it jettisoned the group to Shanghai Automotive Industry Group, which turned it into the Rowe line of cars. That bit of arcane history out of the way, BMW was wise enough to hold onto the Mini, reinvisioning it as “MINI” and throwing a Tritec engine, co-developed with Chrysler and built in Brazil, under the hood. In case you can’t tell, the MINI was truly an international car.
Enough about its genealogy, you say, how did the bloody thing drive? Well, despite being several orders of magnitude larger than its diminutive predecessor, by modern standards it’s a small car and has small car dynamics. The first-generation BMW MINIs weighed 1,000 lbs more than the heaviest old Mini, but there’s more grunt to move the extra mass. The standard MINI had 114 HP and 110 ft-lbs. of torque, and the supercharged Cooper S version had a stonking 168 HP and 162 ft-lbs. of torque, enough to motivate the Cooper S to 60mph in 7.4 seconds. So despite losing out somewhat on the go-kart dynamics of the older car, it kept the sporting feel. The car is currently in its second generation, and reviewers generally feel that despite growing slightly in size and heft, it’s a modest improvement over the first generation. And the new MINI has a much improved “Prince” engine, co-designed with PSA Peugeot-Citroen, with the Cooper S getting a turbocharged version.
The Family Portrait
Just like how we’re sure it is with your dad, some things about the new MINI are like his pa, and some things are different. Thankfully for this pair, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Despite the compromises associated with added bulk, the new MINI is definitely his father’s son. Dad would be proud.